Watches in London

A Survey of London. Reprinted From the Text of 1603. Originally published by Clarendon, Oxford, 1908.

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'Watches in London', in A Survey of London. Reprinted From the Text of 1603, (Oxford, 1908) pp. 99-104. British History Online [accessed 16 April 2024]

Of watches in this Citie, and other Matters (fn. 1) commanded, and the cause why.

Curfew Bell at 8. of the clocke commaunded fire and candle to be quenched.; Rog. Houeden manuscript.; Night walkers murdered all they met.; Rich theeues most worthie to be hanged. The iudgement of fire & water called ordalii, was condemned by Pope Innocent the 3. 1205. Decretal. lib. 5. Cause why watches in the night were commanded and when.

William Conqueror commaunded, that in euerie towne and village, a Bell should be nightly rung at eight of the clocke, and that all people should then put out their fire, and candle, and take their rest: which order was obserued through this Realme during his raigne, and the raigne of William Rufus: but Henrie the first, restoring to his subiects the vse of fire and lights, as afore: it followeth by reason of warres within the realme, that many men also gaue themselues to robberie and murders in the night, for example whereof in this Citie, Roger Houeden writeth thus: In the yeare 1175. a Councell was kept at Notingham: In time of which Councell, a brother of the Earle Ferrers being in the night priuily slaine at London, and throwne out of his Inne, into the durtie street, when ye king vnderstood therof, he sware that he would be auenged on the Citizens. For it was then (saith mine Authour) a common practise in the Citie, that an hundred or more in a company, yong and old, would make nightly inuasions vpon houses of the wealthie, to the intent to rob them, and if they found any man stirring in the Citie within the night, that were not of their crew, they would presently murder him: insomuch, that when night was come, no man durst aduenture to walke in the streetes. When this had continued long, it fortuned that, as a crew of yong and wealthie Citizens, assembling togither in the night, assaulted a stone house of a certaine rich man, & breaking through the wall, the good man of that house, hauing prepared himselfe with other in a corner, when hee perceyued one of the theeues named Andrew Bucquint to leade the way, with a burning brand in the one hand, and a pot of coales in the other, which hee assaied to kindle with the brand, he flew vpon him, and smote off his right hand, and then with a loude voyce cried theeues: at the hearing whereof the theeues tooke their flight, all sauing hee that had lost his hande, whom the good man in the next morning deliuered to Richard de Lucie the kings Iustice. This theefe, vpon warrant of his life, appeached his confederates, of whom many were taken, and many were fled. Among the rest that were apprehended, a certaine Citizen of great countenance, credit, and wealth, named Iohn Senex, who for as much as hee could not acquit himselfe by the waterdome, (as that law was then,) he offered to the king fiue hundred pounds of siluer for his life: but forasmuch as he was condemned by iudgement of the water, the king would not take the offer, but commaunded him to bee hanged on the Gallowes, which was done, and then the Citie became more quite for a long time after. But for a full remedie of enormities in the night, I reade that in the yeare of Christ 1253. Henrie the third commaunded watches in Cities and Boroughe Townes to bee kept, for the better obseruing of peace and quietnesse amongst his people.

And farther by the aduise of them of Sauoy, hee orday ned that if any man chaunced to bee robbed, or by any meanes damnified, by any theefe or robber, he to whom the charge of keeping that Countrie, Citie or Borough chiefly appertained, where the robberie was done, should competently restore the losse: And this was after the vse of Sauoy, but yet thought more hard to bee obserued here, then in those parts: and therefore leauing those laborious watches, I will speake of our pleasures and pastimes in watching by night.

Bonefiers and banqueting in the streetes.; Marching watch at midsommer.; Garnishing of mens doores & furnishing them out.; Almost 1000. Cressets light, for the watch nt Midsommer.; More than 240. Constables in London the one halfe of them ech night went in the marching watch, the other halfe kept their standing watch in euery streete & lane.

In the Moneths of Iune, and Iuly, on the Vigiles of festiuall dayes, and on the same festiuall dayes in the Euenings after the Sunne setting, there were vsually made Bonefiers in the streetes, euery man bestowing wood or labour towards them: the wealthier sort also before their doores neare to the said Bonefiers, would set out Tables on the Vigiles, furnished with sweete breade, and good drinke, and on the Festiuall dayes with meates and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would inuite their neighbours and passengers also to sit, and bee merrie with them in great familiaritie, praysing God for his benefites bestowed on them. These were called Bonefiers aswell of good amitie amongest neighbours that, being before at controuersie, were there by the labour of others, reconciled, and made of bitter enemies, louing friendes, as also for the vertue that a great fire hath to purge the infection of the ayre. On the Vigil of Saint Iohn Baptist, and on Saint Peter andPaule the Apostles, euery mans doore being shadowed with greene Birch, long Fennel, Saint Iohns wort, Orpin, white Lillies, and such like, garnished vpon with Garlands of beautifull flowers, had also Lampes of glasse, with oyle burning in them all the night, some hung out braunches of yron curiously wrought, contayning hundreds of Lampes light at once, which made a goodly shew, namely in new Fishstreet, Thames streete, &c. Then had ye besides the standing watches, all in bright harnes in euery ward and streete of this Citie and Suburbs, a marching watch, that passed through the principal streets thereof, to wit, from the litle Conduit by Paules gate, through west Cheape, by ye Stocks, through Cornhill, by Leaden hall to Aldgate, then backe downe Fenchurch streete, by Grasse church, aboute Grasse church Conduite, and vp Grasse church streete into Cornhill, and through it into west Cheape againe, and so broke vp: the whole way ordered for this marching watch, extendeth to 3200. Taylors yards of assize, for the furniture whereof with lights, there were appointed 700. Cressetes, 500. of them being found by the Companies, the other 200. by the Chamber of London: besides the which lightes euery Constable in London, in number more then 240. had his Cresset, the charge of euery Cresset was in light two shillinges foure pence, and euery Cresset had two men, one to beare or hold it, an other to beare a bag with light, and to serue it, so that the poore men pertayning to the Cressets, taking wages, besides that euery one had a strawne hat, with a badge painted, and his breakfast in the morning, amounted in number to almost 2000. The marching watch contained in number about 2000. men, parte of them being olde Souldiers, of skill to be Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Corporals, &c. Wiflers, Drommers, and Fifes, Standard and Ensigne bearers, Sword players, Trumpeters on horsebacke, Demilaunces on great horses, Gunners with hand Guns, or halfe hakes, Archers in coates of white fustian signed on the breast and backe with the armes of the Cittie, their bowes bent in their handes, with sheafes of arrowes by their sides, Pike men in bright Corslets, Burganets, &c. Holbards, the like Bill men in Almaine Riuets, and Apernes of Mayle in great number, there were also diuers Pageants, Morris dancers, Constables, the one halfe which was 120. on S.Iohns Eue, the other halfe on S. PetersEue in bright harnesse, some ouergilte, and euery one a Iornet of Scarlet thereupon, and a chaine of golde, his Hench man following him, his Minstrels before him, and his Cresset light passing by him, the Waytes of the City, the Mayors Officers, for his guard before him, all in a Liuery of wolsted or Say Iacquets party coloured, the Mayor himselfe well mounted on horseback, the sword bearer before him in fayre Armour well mounted also, the Mayors footmen, & the like Torch bearers about him, Hench men twaine, vpon great stirring horses following him. The Sheriffes watches came one after the other in like order, but not so large in number as the Mayors, for where the Mayor had besides his Giant, three Pageants, each of the Sheriffes had besides their Giantes but two Pageants, ech their Morris Dance, and one Hench man their Officers in Iacquets of Wolsted, or say party coloured, differing from the Mayors, and each from other, but hauing harnised men a great many, &c.

A great muster at London.; John Mountgomery.; Commoditie of the watch at Midsommer, in the time of peace.

This Midsommer Watch was thus accustomed yearely, time out of mind, vntill the yeare 1539. the 31. of Henry the 8. in which yeare on the eight of May, a great muster was made by the Citizens, at the Miles end all in bright harnesse with coates of white silke, or cloath and chaines of gold, in three greate battailes, to the number of 15000. which passed through London to Westminster, and so through the Sanctuary, and round about the Parke of S. Iames, and returned home through Oldbourne. King Henry then considering the great charges of the Cittizens for the furniture of this vnusuall Muster, forbad the marching watch prouided for, at Midsommer for that yeare, which beeing once laide downe, was not raysed againe till the yeare 1548. the second of Edward the sixt, Sir Iohn Gresham then being Mayor, who caused the marching watch both on the Eue of Sainte Iohn Baptist, and of S. Peter the Apostle, to be reuiued and set foorth, in as comely order as it had beene accustomed, which watch was also beautified by the number of more then 300. Demilances and light horsemen, prepared by the Cittizens to bee sent into Scotland, for the rescue of the towne of Hadington, and others kept by the Englishmen. Since this Mayors time, the like marching watch in this Citty hath not been vsed, though some attemptes haue beene made thereunto, as in the yeare 1585. a book was drawn by a graue citizen, & by him dedicated to SirThomas Pullison, then Lord Mayor and his Brethren the Aldermen, conteyning the manner and order of a marching watch in the Cittie vpon the Euens accustomed, in commendation whereof, namely in times of peace to be vsed, he hath words to this effect. The Artificers of sondry sortes were thereby well set a worke, none but rich men charged, poore men helped, old Souldiers, Trompiters, Drommers, Fifes, and ensigne bearers with such like men, meet for Princes seruice kept in vre, wherein the safety and defence of euery common weale consisteth. Armour and Weapon beeing yearely occupied in this wise the Cittizens had of their owne redily prepared for any neede, whereas by intermission hereof, Armorers are out of worke, Souldiers out of vre, weapons ouergrown with foulness, few or none good being prouided, &c.

Wrestling at Skinners well neare vnto Clarks well before the maior.; Shooting the standard, broad arrow, & flight, before the Maior.; Shooting in the long how suppressed, bowling allies erected and frequented.

In the Moneth of August about the feast of S.Bartholomew the Apostle, before the Lord Maior, Aldermen, and Shiriffes of London placed in a large Tent neare vnto Clarken well, of olde time were diuerse dayes spent in the pastime of wrestling, where the Officers of the Citie: namely the Shiriffes, Sergeants and Yeoman. the Porters of the kings became, or weigh house, now no such men, and other of the Citie were challengers of all men in the suburbs, to wrestle for games appointed: and on other dayes, before the sayd Maior, Aldermen and Shiriffes, in Fensburie field, to shoote the Standard, broad Arrow, and fight, for games: but now of late yeares the wrestling is onely practised on Bartholomew day in the after, in one after noone and no more. What should I speake of the auncient dayly exercises in the long bow by Citizens of this Citie, now almost cleane left off and forsaken? I ouerpass it: for by the meane of closing in the common grounds, our Archers for want of roome to shoote abroade, creepe into bowling Allies, and ordinarie dicing houses, nearer home, where they have roome enough to hazard their money at vnlawfull games: and there I leaue them to take their pleasures.


  • 1. <Matters> add. 1633